UN meets as Syria ‘chemical attack’ kills hundreds
Opposition leader says death toll from suspected gas attack could be as high as 1,300
Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu said it was clear from television images coming from Syria that chemical weapons had been used in attack near Damascus and called for an immediate UN investigation. “Use of chemical weapons in Syria is evident from the footage coming from there,” Mr Davutoglu said in an interview broadcast on Turkey’s Kanal 24 television. “We have called for an immediate investigation by the UN teams.”
If the cause of death and the scale of the killing were confirmed, it would be the worst known use of chemical weapons since Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein gassed thousands of Kurds in the town of Halabja in 1988.
Activists said rockets with chemical agents hit the Damascus suburbs of Ain Tarma, Zamalka and Jobar during fierce pre-dawn bombardment by government forces.
The Damascus Media Office monitoring centre said 150 bodies were counted in Hammouriya, 100 in Kfar Batna, 67 in Saqba, 61 in Douma, 76 in Mouadamiya and 40 in Irbib.
Residents of the capital said mortars later hit government-held areas in Faris Khoury Street and the Malki district, where Assad has a residence. There were no reports of injuries.
Heavy air strikes continued throughout the day against the rebel suburbs of Mouadamiya and Jobar.
A nurse at Douma Emergency Collection facility, Bayan Baker, earlier said the death toll collated from medical centres was at least 213.
“Many of the casualties are women and children. They arrived with their pupils constricted, cold limbs and foam in their mouths. The doctors say these are typical symptoms of nerve gas victims,“ the nurse said. Exposure to sarin gas causes pupils in the eyes to shrink to pinpoint sizes and foaming at the lips.
The UN team is in Syria investigating allegations that both rebels and army forces used chemical weapons in the past, one of the main disputes in international diplomacy over Syria.
The Swedish scientist leading the team, Ake Sellstrom, said the reports should be looked into, but doing so would require a request from a UN member state.
France and Sweden said the mission must be sent to the site to investigate without delay. “They need to immediately get access to this site - it‘s 15-20 minutes from where they are currently,“ Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt said.
Turkey and Saudi Arabia made similar calls. Britain said it was deeply concerned and would raise the issue at the UN Security Council, adding the attacks would be “a shocking escalation“ if confirmed.
Extensive amateur video and photographs have appeared on the internet showing countless bodies, with victims choking, some of them foaming at the mouth, and no sign of outward injury.
A video purportedly shot in the Kafr Batna neighbourhood showed a room filled with more than 90 bodies, many of them children and a few women and elderly men. Most of the bodies appeared ashen or pale but with no visible injuries. About a dozen were wrapped in blankets.
Other footage showed doctors treating people in makeshift clinics. One video showed the bodies of a dozen people lying on the floor of a clinic, with no visible wounds. The narrator in the video said they were all members of a single family. In a corridor outside lay another five bodies.